Imagine tucking in to a bit of television, watching your favourite show. You’re really into the latest Scandal, but then… oh no, commercial break! Ugh, not another yogurt commercial! That’s a pretty familiar situation here in North America, but what if instead of a yogurt commercial, it was a beauty ad telling you it sucks to be black, and that white people are awesome? Well, that happened in Thailand.
The brand “Snowz” is a beauty line of skin-whitening pills, marketed to Asian women. Its latest ad features actress, model and presenter Cris Horwang, who states “just being white, you will win.” Already, that’s not sounding great. But in the spot itself, another model starts out fresh-faced and natural, and eventually turns black. When this transformation occurs, she is no longer sunny, or happy. She is, in fact, shocked and despondent.
The model also goes so far as to say, “eternally white, I am confident.” Oh, brother. Remember when Justin Trudeau said, “because it’s 2015” as a response to a question about his newly appointed, diverse cabinet? Well, it’s 2016 now!
The company has since taken its ad off YouTube and released this statement:
“(We) would like to apologize for the mistake and claim full responsibility for this incident. Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages. What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills, and professionality is crucial.”
Even that apology raises some questions, like how does being black negatively impact your personality, skills and ‘professionality’? While we agree a good personality, honed skills and being professional are hallmarks of a decent, orderly life, it begs the question: why was this ad made at all?
Things become a little clearer with a bit of background. Yukti Mukdawijitra, a sociology and anthropology professor at Thailand’s Thammasat University told CNN, “Thai society wants to be part of international society, so ideas of beauty are transferred from the West to Thailand as well.”
He adds, “Those who look Western, those who are white, those who have bodies that look like Westerners’, become preferable – in a way, people in Thailand internalize a colonial attitude into themselves.”
This of course doesn’t make the ad okay (it’s still very racist), but it gives us a lot to think about.